God’s Spirit worked through Elijah to restore the relationship between Israel and Himself. But most of Elijah’s work was not on Mount Carmel. That was just the beginning! He carried it forward in small villages and homes and in training future spiritual leaders through the schools of the prophets to multiply his work of revival and reform.
Often, we forget the tender and patient work done by Elijah year after year. John the Baptist’s work, too, focused on leading people back to the truth, inspiring repentance and baptism one person at a time. Jesus described His work in very similar terms: leading people out of error and back to the truth (see John 8:43-45).
This hypothetical situation described in James 5:19-20 uses a conditional construction in Greek, making clear that apostasy is not definitely assumed to exist but is probable. Departure from the truth refers to apostasy not only in doctrine but in lifestyle, for very often the first leads to the second. Doubts begin to form about our beliefs, leading to double-minded behavior, and finally to outright apostasy. Turning back a
sinner from the wandering of his way will save his soul from death (James 5:20, literally translated). Summing up all that has gone before, James appeals for his brothers in the church to do a work similar to that of Elijah in leading people back to God.
This work requires much patience, sympathy, tenderness, and humility:
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted(Gal. 6:1, NIV). The work of Elijah is to turn hearts toward God and His people, not to turn them away. Often the person is well-aware of his or her sin and does not need it pointed out. What is needed more is forgiveness modeled by Jesus and provided by His death. Saving souls from death is possible only through the
covering of sins, by applying the gospel to our lives, and becoming instruments of mercy (Prov. 10:12).
Think of someone who has really done wrong and knows it too. What can you do, what can you say, to help draw this person back toward the Lord?